Praying For Legal Behavior

Why Teachers Should Not Be Preachers

People who work in the public education system – from kindergarten on up to universities – are most often charged with the task of imparting some type of instruction. Evangelizing is not part of the job.

Some do it anyway. Recently, Bobby Bowden, a retired football coach at Florida State University, boasted about how he imposed his evangelical Christian faith on players.

“I felt like it was my job to witness to every player I coached,” Bowden told a Baptist newspaper.

Bowden also asked, “Why can’t a coach express to his players what he believes? You’re trying to help the kid.”

Maybe because the kid and his family don’t want your “help”? Maybe because they have a religion or philosophy that is working for them? Maybe because as a figure in a position of authority your proselytizing sent a wholly inappropriate message: “If you want to play, you’d better pray”?

This type of recalcitrance also surfaced recently in Franklin County, Miss., where a high school math teacher quit her job (rather than be fired) because she would not obey an order to stop praying with students.

Teacher Alice Hawley had been told to stop the religious activity but refused. School officials, however, knew the law because Americans United’s Legal Department had weighed in. Even after losing her job, Hawley insisted she had done nothing wrong and drew support from some members of the school board.

They might have been less enthusiastic had Hawley been leading the students in Wiccan ceremonies, Muslim prayers toward Mecca or Buddhist meditations.

These two incidents share a common theme: Both feature authority figures who believe they – not parents or families – know what’s best when it comes to the spiritual lives of young people. And both involve people who arrogantly assert that because their faith is true, they have the right to impose it through government channels.

They don’t. People who want to engage in evangelism have plenty of private avenues to use. After all, there is no shortage of houses of worship in America, and they have proven adept at getting their messages out.

Public school teachers and coaches who feel pulled toward evangelism should pursue that during their free time; they should never use an arm of the state to seek converts. The separation of church and state demands no less.

Those who don’t want to follow the rules should consider another line of work. A position as youth minister at a church would be a good place to start.